By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FAMILY and friends of convicted drug smuggler Austin Knowles are appealing for leniency in his sentencing after he pleaded guilty to a 2002 conspiracy and drug trafficking scheme.
Knowles was extradited to the US in May 2018, ending a more than decade-long court battle fighting against removal from this country, and pleaded guilty in a South Florida court the following month.
He is facing a sentencing guideline range of 20 to 30 years imprisonment, and has requested a variance or “extra credit” based on the incarceration conditions of the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services while awaiting extradition.
Knowles was admitted to the BDCS in December 2002, and released by the court in March 2005. He was readmitted in October 2017, and extradited to the United States last year.
He was accused alongside Nathaniel Knowles, Edison Watson, Ian Bethel and Sean Bruey aka Shawn Saunders of alleged drug trafficking and conspiring to import cocaine into the US.
Knowles submitted 15 character references from relatives, religious leaders, and close friends, including his wife Cassandra Newton-Knowles; his pastor and former Central Eleuthera MP Phillip Bethel; Family Island Administrator Gilbert Kemp; his ex-wife, and the mother of his children.
The references by loved ones, most of whom purport to have known Knowles for most of his life, attested to his strong ties to the Eleuthera community and good moral character.
In her letter, Mrs Newton-Knowles recounted their courtship and the moment she first felt romantic feelings towards Knowles, adding that despite their relationship challenges he never disrespected her.
“Austin has made some mistakes in his life,” she wrote, “but he is working hard now to make amends. For more than 15 years my husband has changed his life and never once looked back. Instead he works to provide a better existence for his family.”
Mrs Newton-Knowles said: “Keeping him away from me and his children will only serve to keep a good man away from his family because me and all his children need him around, especially lil’ Austin who is his last child.”
She continued: “Honourable Judge, let me assure you that my husband is a changed man. The life he once lived is in the past forever. I encouraged my husband to surrender himself because it is the only way he can start a new life without fear.
“Notwithstanding he has to set an example for his seven children, all of whom he has an intimate relationship with.”
For his part, Mr Bethel spoke of Knowles’ integrity and belief in hard work and goodwill towards others. As the senior pastor at People’s Restoration Baptist Church, Mr Bethel said he witnessed Knowles’ spiritual growth over the years as an active member of the church and “excellent role model” that was well respected and loved.
Mr Kemp, a high school classmate, said: “Personally, I know that he’s a loving and kind father, civic and community minded and extremely generous to whomever and whenever there is a need of assistance.”